north east scotland's festival of new music

press reviews

Sound A New Song

Written by Alan Cooper, The Herald

Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.

article | The Herald

St Machar’s Cathedral, Aberdeen

The Sound Festival and the John Armitage Memorial Trust (JAM) are both actively involved in the promotion of new music.

They joined forces on Sunday to present a choral spectacular that for the first time brought together university chamber choirs from Edinburgh, St. Andrews and Aberdeen. Thistle Brass and Tom Wilkinson, university organist at St Andrews also joined in this sensational performance of ground-breaking choral music, including four pieces commissioned by JAM, while three richly distinctive works by James MacMillan served to shine the spotlight individually on organ, brass or choir.

Conductor Michael Bawtree had carefully moulded the separate choirs into one seamless singing powerhouse reflecting the cohesiveness of scoring in the opening work, The Night's Untruth by Tarik O'Regan. Here choir, organ and brass were fused into a homogeneous orchestral unit. Full choir sections or tenor, soprano and alto soloists were scored exactly as an orchestral composer might use varied instrumental voices in this intensely atmospheric piece.

Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal by Paul Mealor contrasted earthly and divine love. Surprising turns of harmony accomplished within a traditional tonal ambience gave this composer's music a uniquely seductive freshness. His little elfin scherzo in the middle was a real stunner.

Gabriel Jackson's The Spacious Firmament was a kind of multicoloured musical mosaic made up of dazzlingly ornate fragments, even including a jazzy muted trumpet. As the work progressed the design of the whole came clearly into focus.

Jazz inspired harmonies for choir coloured Jackson's companion piece, Yet We Who Neither Burn Nor Shine. Its free-floating trumpet obligato paid tribute to John Armitage, whose own instrument was the trumpet.

Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.